Tuesday, March 5, 2019

Knowledge will forever govern Ignorance

“Knowledge will forever govern ignorance: And a people who mean to be their own Governors, must arm themselves with the power which knowledge gives.” – James Madison to W. T. Barry, August 4, 1822.

One of the biggest threats to civility and progress is ignorance – but this is not the ignorance you may usually think of. In many ways we are a highly-educated society. Many of our generation excel in the knowledge of science, technology, engineering, math (STEM) and their applications in business and industry. However by comparison, the level of knowledge of fundamental principles of human equality, liberty, and divine rights under the Constitution and Bill of Rights, as well as of the history of the American Founding, is seriously lacking. Numerous studies have shown that the average student, as well as the average citizen, is totally unaware of the principles of government that guarantee our freedoms and of each individual’s responsibility to understand and uphold such freedoms. This ignorance is manifest in schools, universities, and in the media.

Some basic questions to test our knowledge:

  • What are the basic principles of the Declaration of Independence? 
  • What is liberty? How is it maintained? 
  • What is tyranny? How is it kept in check? 
  • What is the supreme law or primary duty of government? 
  • What is the purpose of the law? How do we judge between just and unjust laws? 
  • Are all men and women created equal? How are we equal? 
  • What is the relationship between the Declaration and the Constitution? 
  • What are the purposes of the Constitution? Does it establish a democracy or a republic? What are the differences between a democracy and a republic? 
  • What are the three branches of the federal government? Why are there three branches? What are their roles and duties? 
  • What is the Bill of Rights? What rights does the first amendment guarantee? 
  • What is federalism? What is the relationship between federal and state governments? 
  • What are the duties and responsibilities of citizens to government? To one another? 
  • What are the roles of virtue and religion in a free society? 
  • Can liberty subsist without civic virtue? 

One of Thomas Jefferson’s greatest concerns was that Americans become educated in a way “to enable every man to judge for himself what will secure or endanger his freedom.” (Letter to John Tyler, 1810). We are generally failing as a nation and as a society in this vital ingredient to maintain our constitutional republic. This fundamental ignorance seriously hampers our civility, our common discourse, and our progress as a nation. Even more significantly, it places in jeopardy our rights and our liberty.

“If a nation expects to be ignorant and free, in a state of civilization, it expects what never was and never will be.” – Thomas Jefferson to Charles Yancey, January 6, 1816.

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